By Sourish Bhattacharyya
|The Olive Bar & Kitchen team posing for a photo-op with|
the Best Pizza Trophy being handed over by Rocky Mohan
and other members of the Delhi Gourmet Club jury
AFTER enjoying a long Diwali weekend, I am back with a bucketful of news, starting with the announcement of the Delhi Gourmet Club's Pizza Hunt results. When I look back at the evolution of the pizza in our city, I remember the days when the Nirula's Keema Do Pyaza Pizza used to be my post-examination treat from my father. The pizza crust used to be like toast, with shredded Amul processed cheese filling in for mozzarella, the 'tomato puree' suspiciously seeming to be straight out of a ketchup bottle, and the keema do pyaza was unevenly spread on top, with the serving getting thinner as the pizza got popular. Of course, there was also the pepperoni pizza, which was hugely popular (with good reason!), but I discovered it much later.
I am speaking of the early 1980s, when a pizza was a treat that few middle-class families could afford. That was when Taxila, the city's only respectable Continental restaurant on the Maurya rooftop, was struggling to survive, and so was Valentino at the fledgling Hyatt Regency, which made way for the juggernaut named La Piazza. It was La Piazza, together (a little later) with Italian electrical engineer-turned-restaurateur Tarsillo Natalone's Flavors, which ended Delhi's pizza virginity. In fact, the opening chef of La Piazza, who was an Austrian, was so pernickety about the restaurant's Neapolitan pizzas that he banned the waiters from dousing them with Tabasco sauce or chilli flakes. The waiters, as a result, had to smuggle bottles of both in their jacket pockets to serve their contents on the sly.
Since those early days, we have seen Ritu Dalmia introduce Delhi to the wonders of the wood-fired oven at Diva. We have had Bill Marchetti inaugurate one with great fanfare at Pavilion, the all-day restaurant at the ITC Maurya, but the restaurant never became famous for pizzas. We have watched Olive Bar & Kitchen turn pizza slices, freshly out of the wood-fired oven, into popular party snacks in the days when the trio of Anirban Sarkar, Mohit Balachandran and Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai had made the restaurant a force to reckon with. And Mist at The Park, in the days of Bakshish Dean (the golden age of the Connaught Place hotel's culinary journey), rolled out such novelties of the time as the smoked salmon and quattro formaggi pizzas.
Of course, we had our share of PR gimmicks as well, such as the pizza priced at Rs 9,999 (its toppings included a generous helping of beluga and lobster), with which The Qube opened its doors at The Leela Palace Chanakyapuri. It was the creation of the hotel's then executive chef, the affable American, Glenn Eastman, who formerly presided over the kitchen at the personal yacht of the world's richest man, Mexican telecoms tsar Carlos Slim Helu. Talking about Americans and pizzas, India is well on its way to becoming one of the top five market for Domino's, which straddles across 55 per cent of the country's Rs 1,300-1,400-crore organised pizza market. Pizza Hut is hot in pursuit, followed at a respectable distance by players such as Papa John's and Sbarro, and now, JSM Hospitality, the company behind Shiro and Hard Rock Cafe, is ready to roll out California Pizza Kitchen in Delhi/NCR after a successful run in Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore.
With Delhi's pizza offerings getting more diverse than ever, it has become important for food connoisseurs to get a sense of where they can get the best pizzas in the city and its upscale suburbs. True to its record of becoming the final arbiter of taste in the city, the Delhi Gourmet Club, led by 'Mr Old Monk' and author of four well-received cookbooks, Rocky Mohan, went on a whirlwind hunt for the best pizza, covering 15 restaurants a record three weeks.
The jury consisted of a mixed group of well-travelled people united by a passion for food but representing the universe of Delhi restaurants--a couple of home-makers, a social media marketer, a management consultant, a well-known restaurateur, and even a professor of human rights at a reputed law school. Each of them spent Rs 5,000, tasting a basic margherita pizza followed by a gourmet pizza at each of the 15 restaurants, over five nights to arrive at a ranking that is refreshingly honest, though some of the big names in the business may not agree with their relegation to the lower end of the list.
My big complaint against the jury is that it left out Flavors and Cilantro at The Trident, Gurgaon, which, I maintain, has been consistent with the superior quality of its pizzas. I wholeheartedly endorse the No. 1 position going to Olive Bar & Kitchen, but I was left wondering how threesixtydegrees at The Oberoi managed to be No. 2 -- I have never known of anyone going there to ask for a pizza. Fat Lulu, in my opinion, should have been No. 2, not No. 3. But the shocker was Diva ending at the bottom of the heap, at No. 15. The news made me lapse into a state of violent disbelief followed by shock. Has Ritu Dalmia allowed her restaurant to slip to such an extent or was it a bad dough day? Anyway, without more quibbles, let me share the ranking with you:
Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mehrauli, 79.33; threesixtydegrees, The Oberoi New Delhi, 74.50; Fat Lulu, Gurgaon, 70.50; San Gimignano, The Imperial, 68.50; La Piazza, Hyatt Regency, 68.44; Sen5es, Pullman Gurgaon, 66.25; Sartoria, Vasant Vihar, 62.93; Mistral, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, 62.20; Prego, The Westin, Gurgaon, 60.57; La Tagliatella, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, 58.47; The Qube, The Leela Palace Chanakyapuri, 53.35; Amici, Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, 50.36; Tonino, Andheria More, Mehrauli, 48.57; Mist, The Park, Parliament Street, 43.22; Diva, M-Block, Greater Kailash-II, 42.88.
So, how do you rate a pizza? Did the jury follow certain guidelines? Rocky shared them with the Delhi Gourmet Club before posting the results. Though Rocky did not mention this fact, you'll find the pointers in the blog 'A Gravy Train with Biscuit Wheels'. Anyway, here they are:
Is the crust worth eating on its own? Or is it simply a load-bearing device to hold up massive quantities of toppings (not necessarily a bad thing, but not usually seen in the best pizzerias)?
Is the bread dense or airy?
Do the individual toppings taste good on their own? Would you eat them if they were served on an appetiser plate alone? Or do they need cheese, bread and tomato sauce to work.
What types of cheeses are being used? Would the cheese(s) also taste okay on its own?
Is there a lot of sauce, a sauce drought, or is it in-between? Is the sauce delicious on its own?
Does it rely on salt or sugar for a strong taste?
Does the pizza remain tasty and interesting from start to finish? Or does the pizza have a great first bite, but then become an uninteresting trudge to finish eating. Over-salted pizzas can definitely fall into this trap. If you wish to check out the original, go to http://cincinnatimalavita.blogspot.in/2012/12/how-to-judge-great-pizza.html.
Interesting pointers! Keep these in mind the next time when you to have a gourmet pizza experience.